Deaths in Custody – Homicide: Nunuha family sues CCA and state.

This poor man’s murder was preventable – and horrendous. Condolences to his loved ones. I hope you make CCA and the State of Hawai’i pay – it’s the only thing that seems to make these people change how they abuse and neglect other human beings. If you need the support of other prisoners’ families surviving similar traumas, please let me know (Peggy Plews 480-580-6807 I am in Phoenix, AZ.
Arizona State Legislature, Phoenix.
February 15, 2011
—————-from the ACLU of Hawai’i————–

Family of Hawaii Prisoner Murdered in Mainland Prison Files Lawsuit Against State of Hawaii, Corrections Corporation of America

Today the family of Bronson Nunuha, a 26-year-old Hawaii prisoner who was brutally murdered at a Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) (NYSE:CXW) private prison in Arizona in 2010, filed a lawsuit in state court against CCA and the State of Hawaii.  The suit exposes CCA’s business model of grossly short-staffing prisons and cutting corners in every way possible to make its private prisons profitable.  These systemic practices violated fundamental safety requirements and subjected Hawaii prisoners to rampant gang violence in under-staffed prison units.  Bronson Nunuha was just months away from release on a burglary conviction when CCA forced him to share housing with extremely violent, gang-affiliated prisoners in the same unit.  A copy of the complaint is here

“Bronson’s death was senseless and preventable.  CCA and the State of Hawaii needlessly put him in danger,” said attorney Kenneth M. Walczak, who, along with the Human Rights Defense Center and the ACLU of Hawaii, represents the Nunuha family. 

“Private prisons are known to have higher levels of violence due to understaffing and high staff turnover that result from their goal of generating ever-greater profits,” added HRDC director Paul Wright. “But prison companies are not allowed to make profit more important than human life.  Unfortunately, CCA’s desire to turn a corporate profit needlessly cost Bronson Nunuha his life.”

Bronson was transferred to CCA’s Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona as part of a controversial practice in which Hawaii prisoners are sent to for-profit mainland facilities. He was serving a 5-year sentence for burglary and property damage when he was killed by other prisoners. Bronson, who was only months away from completing his sentence and returning to his family on Oahu, left behind a grieving mother, sisters, and his seven-year-old son. 

Under Hawaii law, the State was required to return Bronson to Hawaii when he had only a year left on his sentence so that he could complete necessary programs to help him re-enter the community.  The State ignored this law.

Bronson was murdered in CCA’s “Special Housing Incentive Program,” or SHIP. The SHIP program places rival gang members and prisoners who do not belong to any gang together in one unit, where they share recreation time and sometimes the same cell.  Predictably, this practice results in violent incidents like Bronson’s murder. Only one CCA employee was present to oversee approximately 50 prisoners in the SHIP unit where Bronson was housed.

While at the CCA prison, Bronson had asked to be removed from the SHIP unit but CCA staff denied his requests.  On February 18, 2010, two gang members attacked Bronson in his cell; the cell door had been opened by a CCA employee, who then left. Bronson was beaten and stabbed over 100 times. His assailants carved the name of their gang into his chest and even had time to leave his cell, shower and change clothes before CCA staff knew that Bronson had been killed. 

One of Bronson’s assailants, Miti Maugaotega, Jr., had previously been involved in several attacks on other prisoners at a different CCA prison. Maugaotega, a gang member, was serving multiple life sentences for attempted murder, rape, and armed robbery. CCA and the State knew that Maugaotega was dangerous and capable of extreme violence but still housed him in the same unit as Bronson, a non-violent offender close to finishing a 5-year sentence.

CCA prisons that house Hawaii prisoners have been plagued with problems. In addition to Bronson’s murder, another Hawaii prisoner, Clifford Medina, was killed at the Saguaro facility in June 2010. In 2009, Hawaii removed all of its female prisoners from CCA’s Otter Creek Correctional Center in Kentucky following a scandal that resulted in at least six CCA employees being charged with rape or sexual misconduct. Other Hawaii prisoners have sued CCA, charging that the company has tolerated beatings and sexual assaults in its mainland prisons, and for refusing to allow them to participate in native Hawaiian religious practices.

“Why the State of Hawaii continues to contract with this company is mystifying, frankly,” said Wright. “After two murders, disturbances, allegations of rampant sexual abuse and a lack of accountability by CCA employees, it’s fairly obvious that CCA is unable or unwilling to safely house Hawaii prisoners, and the State is unable or unwilling to adequately monitor conditions at mainland prisons. Hawaii taxpayers are certainly not getting what they’re paying for.”

ACLU of Hawaii Senior Staff Attorney Dan Gluck added, “the ACLU has long warned the State about the damaging effects of its short-sighted policy of shipping prisoners to the mainland. This tragedy is bound to be repeated unless Hawaii adopts more effective prison policies.” 

Bronson’s family is represented by the San Francisco law firm of Rosen, Bien & Galvan, LLP, by HRDC chief counsel Lance Weber, and by the ACLU of Hawaii’s Dan Gluck.  The attorneys ask anyone with information about Bronson’s death – or information about violations of other safety rules at the CCA Saguaro Correctional Facility – to contact them.              

The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website ( that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents. 

 Rosen Bien & Galvan, LLP has a unique practice blending public interest and private sector litigation.  The firm represents individuals and companies in complex trial and appellate litigation in state & federal courts.

Hawaii, Outsourcing Prisoners, and the Death Penalty.

Another great piece from Vorsino in Honolulu. It comes via Ken’s list-serve at Private Corrections Working Group. Hit them up for rap sheets on CCA and all these private prison profiteers, too.

This is a fascinating article about the implications of shipping one’s prisoners out of state – in this case, from Hawaii, which abolished the death penalty, to Arizona, which employs it with glee. It comes down to what we value most – life or profit/”savings”. If Hawaiians value life, they’ll bring their people home sooner rather than later, and keep them there.

Sad to say, but Arizonans don’t value life that much. Not the lives of people of color, indigenous and otherwise. Nor the lives of children, the poor, the elderly, the disabled…

These journalists in Honolulu rock…follow them for news as the Hawaiian prisoner murders unfold.


2 inmates could face death penalty in killing

By Mary Vorsino

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 16, 2010


Two Hawaii inmates charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing death of a fellow Hawaii inmate at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona could face the death penalty if convicted.

The two are the first to face capital punishment for a crime committed in a private prison on the mainland since Hawaii started housing inmates out of state in 1995.

Because Hawaii has no death penalty, some legal advocates say the case could be unprecedented in the nation. Some also argue the situation raises new questions about the practice of sending inmates out of state to serve their sentences.

State Department of Public Safety officials say they are monitoring the case, but it doesn’t appear they plan to step in to urge Arizona to take the death penalty off the table.

“When you commit a crime in a different state, it’s a crime that is addressed with that state,” said DPS Director Clayton Frank. “We abide by the laws of that respective state.”

The two inmates — Miti Maugaotega Jr., 24, and Micah Kanahele, 29 — were indicted on first-degree murder and gang-related charges May 20 in the killing of Bronson Nunuha, 26, who was found in his cell at Saguaro on Feb. 18 with multiple stab wounds.

Maugaotega was serving a life sentence for first-degree attempted murder in the June 2003 shooting of Punchbowl resident Eric Kawamoto. Kanahele was serving two 20-year sentences for the October 2003 shooting deaths of Greg Morishima at his Aiea home and Guylan Nuuhiwa in a Pearl City parking lot a week later.

Nunuha was behind bars for three counts of second-degree burglary.

News that Maugaotega and Kanahele could face the death penalty comes as the state is investigating a second killing of a Hawaii inmate at Saguaro.

Clifford Medina, 23, was killed June 8 at Saguaro, and his cellmate, also a Hawaii inmate, is in custody in connection with the case.

Yesterday, Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, the acting governor while Gov. Linda Lingle is traveling in Asia, said the killings highlight the need to take a closer look at security at Saguaro and could prompt the state to move inmates from the facility.

But he said he would have to do more research before weighing in on whether the state should voice opposition on the two inmates facing the death penalty.

Some 1,871 male Hawaii inmates are at Saguaro, a 1,897-bed prison in Eloy, Ariz., owned by Corrections Corp. of America. About 50 more are at a separate CCA prison in Arizona.

The state spends about $61 million a year to house male inmates on the mainland because there is not enough room for them at Hawaii prisons. Last year, allegations by female Hawaii inmates of widespread sexual abuse by guards and employees at a CCA facility in Kentucky prompted the state to pull all 168 of its female inmates from the prison and bring them back to the islands to serve their time.

A spokesman with the Pinal County Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the Nunuha case, said the death penalty is within sentencing guidelines in a first-degree murder case.

He declined further comment because the case is ongoing.

Fifteen states, including Hawaii, do not have the death penalty.

state Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said the Nunuha case could prompt more discussion on the implications of shipping Hawaii inmates out of state.

Espero added he wants to learn more about the killing before trying to determine whether the state should stand in the way of a death penalty sentencing.

“Quite frankly, it was a cold-blooded murder,” he said. “I’m sure you will find people in Hawaii that say they deserve (to face) the death penalty.”

But, he added, “these cases really do show the need to come up with a plan to bring home our prisoners one day.”

Opponents of the death penalty say the case raises legal questions. In a statement, ACLU Hawaii said it hopes Arizona will “respect Hawaii’s history and tradition of rejecting capital punishment in their treatment of Hawaii’s inmates.”

ACLU also said Nunuha’s killing is “just one of a morbid series of events showing the need for independent oversight” of CCA’s contract with Hawaii. The group urged the governor to sign a bill into law that calls for an audit of the state’s contract with CCA.

Hawaii DPS to investigate AZ prison.

Wonder why they wouldn’t be confident in AZ ADC or DPS investigating CCA ourselves?

This Star Advertiser reporter is really on this story. Follow her as it unfolds.


State to investigate killing of island inmate in Arizona
By Mary Vorsino
Honolulu Star Advertiser

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST,
Jun 15, 2010

Amid growing scrutiny of the state’s practice of shipping inmates to the mainland, a state Department of Public Safety team left for Arizona yesterday to investigate the killing of a 23-year-old Hawaii inmate at Saguaro Correctional Center.

Arizona authorities expect to charge a 21-year-old Hawaii inmate in connection with the killing at Saguaro, a private prison in Arizona where nearly 1,900 Hawaii inmates are housed.

1,871 male inmates at Saguaro
1,897 beds at Saguaro
$61 million per year to house male inmates on mainland

Eloy, Ariz., police said Mahinauli Silva strangled his cellmate, Clifford Medina, while the prison was in lockdown on last Tuesday.

The killing is the second of a Hawaii inmate on the mainland this year and is prompting calls for new attention to the out-of-state prison population.

State Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said the two inmate deaths raise serious questions about the state’s policy of shipping out inmates and will undoubtedly raise the prominence of the discussion in the 2011 legislative session.

“Maybe this could give us a reason to pause,” he said, adding that the Hawaii team in Arizona to investigate Medina’s death needs to answer this question: “Is this prison unsafe, and are there some major security breaches?”

Meanwhile, Medina’s family said they are not getting any details on the killing from the state Department of Public Safety and plan to travel to Arizona to look into the death themselves.

“It’s so frustrating,” said Loke Medeiros, Medina’s aunt. “No one from Public Safety talks to us.”
Medeiros said that Medina had cognitive disabilities and attention deficit disorder and had recently been placed in isolation. As a result, he could call his family only once a month.

“The day of his death was the day he was supposed to call home,” said Medeiros, of Puna. “He had told us he was in what they call the hole.”

DPS Director Clayton Frank said he had not gotten official word yesterday on Medina’s cause of death and so could not comment on the case. But he did say the DPS team would be working with Eloy police and with prison officials to investigate what happened and evaluate security at the facility.

Some 1,871 male Hawaii inmates are at Saguaro, a 1,897-bed prison owned by Corrections Corp. of America. About 50 more are at a separate CCA prison in Arizona.

The state spends about $61 million a year to house male inmates on the mainland because there is not enough room for them at Hawaii prisons. Last year, allegations by female Hawaii inmates of widespread sexual abuse by guards and employees at a CCA facility in Kentucky prompted the state to pull all 168 of its female inmates from the prison and bring them back to the islands to serve their time.

Silva, the suspect in the killing last week, remains in custody at the Saguaro Correctional Center and is expected to be charged today or tomorrow, said Sgt. Michelle Tarango, of the Eloy Police Department.

Police did not provide information yesterday on a motive in the killing and could not say why the prison was in lockdown.

Tarango said Silva confessed in police custody to strangling his cellmate, then waiting a “short while” before pushing an emergency button to call for guards.

Medina was sent to Arizona about six months ago and was serving time for first-degree assault on a law enforcement officer, two counts of second-degree burglary, second-degree theft and bail jumping. He would have been eligible for parole in 2012.

Silva was serving time for burglary and theft.

Saguaro was also the site of the stabbing death of Bronson Nunuha on Feb. 18. Two Hawaii inmates — Micah Kanahele and Miti Maugaotega Jr. have been indicted on first-degree murder charges in the case.

Nunuha was the first Hawaii inmate killed in a private prison on the mainland since the state started housing inmates out of state in 1995, though others have been seriously assaulted.

Officials have said Nunuha’s death appeared to be gang-related. There are no indications Medina’s death was linked to gangs.